The USMNT still can’t compete at the highest level, but why?

USMNT
United States' goalkeeper Brad Guzan throws the ball during the International Friendly football match between the United States and Uruguay at Busch Stadium, in St. Louis, Missouri on September 10, 2019. (Photo by Tim Vizer / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIM VIZER/AFP/Getty Images)

St. Louis, Missouri — The USMNT failed to defeat yet another highly-ranked opponent on Tuesday night. This time? A 1-1 tie with Uruguay at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.

The tie has highlighted a worrying trend for the U.S., in that it can’t defeat World Cup-tier opponents.

A worrying trend for the USMNT

It’s easy to simply make the claim that the USMNT can’t compete at the highest level, but the numbers back up the claim.

Since the start of 2019 — the supposed new age of Gregg Berhalter following failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — the USMNT has played in 14 games. The following list details, in chronological order, each of the results in those games, along with the official FIFA world ranking of each squad. It’s worth noting the United States is currently ranked at No. 22 in the world.

  • No. 74 Panama 0 – 3 USA
  • No. 44 Costa Rica 0 – 2 USA
  • No. 66 Ecuador 0 – 1 USA
  • No. 14 Chile 1 – 1 USA
  • No. 52 Jamaica 1 – 0 USA
  • No. 26 Venezuela 3 – 0 USA
  • No. 178 Guyana 0 – 4 USA
  • No. 101 Trinidad & Tobago 0 – 6 USA
  • No. 74 Panama 0 – 1 USA
  • No. 79 Curacao 0 – 1 USA
  • No. 52 Jamaica 1 – 3 USA
  • No. 12 Mexico 1 – 0 USA
  • No. 12 Mexico 3 – 0 USA
  • No. 5 Uruguay 1 – 1 USA

The U.S. enjoyed a nice stretch during the CONCACAF Gold Cup — against teams much lower in the rankings. But against top-50 opponents? The U.S. is 1-2-3. While beating up lower-ranked teams may be enough to squeeze into the next World Cup, it’s not good enough for when the tougher competition comes along.

But why?

The simple answer is creativity. The secondary answer is taking chances when they come. The U.S. undeniably has a couple of stars up top — Christian Pulisic, Jordan Morris and Josh Sargeant among them — but they don’t seem to be able to make it all come together.

Before we get into the specifics, the U.S. did score a goal against Uruguay, but let’s not pretend it was a nice goal. A lucky bounce off a clearance fell to Jordan Morris at the back post for the equalizing goal, but it didn’t exactly come from nice play.

So moving into actual creative play, the easy solution against Uruguay on Tuesday was getting the ball up quickly to Josh Sargeant, who was granted ample space as the Uruguay midfield focused on Cristian Roldan and Sabastian Lletget. But the duo, along with Jackson Yueill, didn’t have the precision nor creativity to effectively find Sargeant.

So instead, they opted to try playing the ball out wide to Morris and Tyler Boyd. But those two also couldn’t make anything happen, showing no real threat cutting inside and most of their crosses finding Uruguay defenders. And one of the few times the U.S. did manage to carve out a good chance from the wing? Boyd bounced the ball over the bar from two yards out.

What next and what’s the solution?

With Tuesday night’s loss, the USMNT has now gone three games without a win, all against opponents of supposedly the same caliber. It’s a worrying stat for Berhalter and the U.S. as World Cup qualifying lies around the corner.

Just three CONCACAF teams — Mexico, USA and Costa Rica — currently sit in the top-50 of the FIFA world rankings. That, of course, bodes well for the U.S., but that also didn’t stop then-Jurgen Klinsmann’s team from failing to qualify.

The U.S. needs to figure out a way to defeat opponents of equal stature to it, and quickly. Much of the personnel currently being selected for national duty seems to be the correct decision, but the service for goals isn’t there.

With the way the U.S. played against Uruguay, the best man for the job would have been Jozy Altidore in the middle, but quite frankly, that’s not how the U.S. wants to — or should — play. They’re better than resorting to Long Ball F.C. and pumping the ball into the box.

So what options do they have? Pushing back to a 4-5-1 is certainly one solution, beating the opposition in the midfield battle before using its wide players to push up for width. We’ve moved on from the Michael Bradley era (finally), so it would be nice to see a guy like Tyler Adams, or even Paxton Pomykal or Yueill slot into the defensive midfield role and allow the rest of the midfield to push further up the field.

But whatever that solution may be, the U.S. needs to figure it out, and quickly.

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